MLMA Master Plan 3. Scaled Management

Four FMPs have been prepared and implemented since the MLMA was adopted: White Seabass, Nearshore Finfish (19 species), Market Squid, and Spiny Lobster. FMPs for Pacific Herring and the recreational take of Red Abalone are currently under development. Controversy and complexity in these fisheries led to intense FMP development efforts and high demands on the Department. Each took three to five years to complete, and cost between an estimated 1 million and 11 million dollars. As a result of these intensive processes focused on a few species, most of the state’s fisheries have not fully benefited from all the provisions of the MLMA. There is a clear need to identify additional cost-effective approaches to apply the appropriate level of MLMA-based management more broadly and consistently across California’s fisheries.

To develop and implement cost-effective FMPs in the future, management approaches and the scope of the public process used to develop them will need to be scaled to the specific fishery. Traditional, resource-intensive FMPs will remain an important tool and an effective way to address the management needs of high-risk or complex fisheries. However, it may not be appropriate or necessary to undergo a complex and comprehensive FMP process for a single-sector fishery whose current management framework already meets the sustainability provisions of the MLMA. Management scaling can extend the MLMA’s benefits to a greater number of fisheries in a way that is consistent and explicit.

Squid fleet off Monterey. (CDFW photo by C. Wilson)

Current management

In addition to the Master Plan, there are two principal documents that the MLMA identifies for implementing its policies and managing fisheries: Status of the Fishery Reports (status reports) and FMPs. Status reports are overviews of a fishery that include information on annual landings or catch, the species’ biology, and current management, monitoring(opens in new tab), and assessment efforts. The MLMA requires the Department to prepare these reports for state-managed sport and commercial marine fisheries and encourages the Department to partner with outside experts to generate them (§7065(b)(opens in new tab)). The first status report covering all of California’s state-managed living marine resources was published in 2001 and updates were published in 2003, 2006, 2008, and 2011 for some fisheries. View Status of the Fishery Reports.

In addition to developing status reports and FMPs, the Department also engages in regular rulemakings to address specific issues. Rulemakings and accompanying analyses are currently required to meet the provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)(opens in new tab), and efforts are made to address the applicable goals and requirements of the MLMA for the specific regulatory action being taken.

Design principles for management scaling

The current approach to status reports and FMPs can be adapted to apply the MLMA more explicitly to a greater number of the state’s fisheries. The design principles below are provided to help guide the management scaling approach towards that goal.

The management scaling approach should:

  • Match the level of management effort with the needs of the fishery, availability of information useful for management, Department’s capacity, and interests of stakeholders and the Commission.
  • Increase MLMA-based management and create a foundation for MLMA implementation across a broader number of fisheries.
  • Be adaptive and identify potential triggers/conditions for when a fishery may need more or less intensive management.
  • Use assessments to identify the potential management needs of fisheries.
  • Provide increased transparency regarding current management efforts and gaps in science and management.
  • Be focused on the priorities identified in Chapter 2.
  • Make strategic use of collaborations and stakeholder engagement.

Defining the management scale

Fisheries vary significantly in terms of the appropriate intensity of management effort. The management scaling approach in Figure 2 reflects this range. Figure 2 depicts the basic levels of management responses that might be appropriate for a given fishery under the MLMA. This ranges from an ESR for relatively low-priority species to a complex FMP for fisheries that are relatively high priority and more complex. The appropriateness of each level is discussed in detail below.

Figure 2 is a diagram showing the different scales of management that may be appropriate for different stocks. From left to right, the scales are Enhanced Status Report (ESR), ESR plus rulemaking, ESR and basic fisheries management plan (FMP), and ESR plus complex FMP.
Figure 2. The scaled management continuum, a core component of the management scaling approach within the framework.

Enhanced Status Reports

The base of the continuum is an ESR that systematically addresses the objectives and requirements of the MLMA. Section 7065(b)(opens in new tab) describes general topics that should be addressed in status reports including “landings, fishing effort, areas where the fishery occurs, and other factors affecting the fishery as determined by the Department and Commission.” Status reports are currently less effective than they could be in demonstrating management’s consistency with the goals of the MLMA. Within the required subject areas, status reports include varying types of information that are not always relevant to management or stakeholders. Currently, status reports are infrequently updated and are not stored or displayed in a way that maximizes their use or takes advantage of web-based technologies. ESRs, the revised approach to status reports in the Master Plan, may help to better achieve the goals of the MLMA by being more structured, current, and easily accessed. The revised outline below is based on the MLMA’s required contents for FMPs. The outline includes a summary of the available information with a focus on relevance to management. This revised format helps to ensure transparency by making it clear what is being done and what information is available. It also summarizes all the available EFI for each fishery and makes it readily apparent what is not available.

ESRs should follow the following outline:


1. The Species

2. The Fishery

3. Management

4. Monitoring and Essential Fishery Information

5. Future Management Needs and Directions

  • Identification of Information Gaps
  • Research and Monitoring
  • Opportunities for Management Change
  • Climate Readiness

ESRs can be a repository of information documenting the consistency of a fishery’s management with the MLMA. They are an opportunity to articulate the data streams the Department monitors to ensure sustainability along with any established reference points. Given that ESRs serve to focus additional management efforts that may be needed, they should be generated for a fishery before an FMP is developed. Up-to-date ESRs should also be generated and maintained for species managed under FMPs. The information gathered as part of the prioritization approach described in Chapter 2, as well as through application of the MLMA-based assessment framework described in Appendix F, can be used to populate ESRs. For example, the information on target species that is required by the MLMA overlaps with the information necessary to determine a productivity score as part of the PSA. The required information on the fishery and current management are similar to that needed to determine the susceptibility score of the PSA. Furthermore, the sections of the ESR on ecosystem impacts and bycatch management correspond with the information necessary to complete the ERA. Lastly, the MLMA-based assessment framework can help to inform the ESR sections on future needs and directions. Nevertheless, information will usually be lacking for at least some element of the ESR outline. Missing information should not prevent the development of an ESR for a given species. Gaps in management or understanding should simply be identified as areas needing further attention. As depicted in Figure 1, ESRs may provide the foundation of the California Fisheries Portal(opens in new tab) (portal). The portal is intended to be a dynamic web-based tool that organizes and presents all sections of the ESRs in a way that is easy to navigate and allows the Department to easily update as new information becomes available. The portal is also envisioned to eventually provide users with additional tools for data exploration, visualization, and analysis, as well as information on the policies and approaches of the Master Plan.

Enhanced Status Reports plus focused rulemakings

For low-priority fisheries, no additional management activities may be necessary in the near-term and an ESR may be adequate. However, other fisheries may need to adjust management measures to address specific concerns, but at a level that does not warrant a comprehensive overhaul of its management through an FMP (see following section). For these fisheries an ESR plus a focused rulemaking may be an effective combination. Regulatory documents developed for the rulemakings can be a source of additional material to address some of the FMP elements related to new conservation measures described below. Specifically, these include the elements focused on new management measures and their anticipated effects. When these elements are addressed and integrated into the ESR, the ESR will contain many of the principal components of an FMP.

Scaled Fishery Management Plans

An FMP is appropriate in cases where the degree of management change, fishery complexity, and information needs are high, and a comprehensive management approach is required. In these situations, FMP preparation can be streamlined by using information from the ESR as a foundation. The additional MLMA requirements that pertain specifically to new conservation and management measures (§7082–§7086(opens in new tab)) will then need to be addressed. Although an FMP is a more involved process, it provides an opportunity to address more complex issues, consider multiple sectors, and allow existing statutes and regulations to be rendered inactive if they conflict with the FMP. FMP development is also an opportunity to consider the appropriateness of various forms of fisheries co-management(opens in new tab) as required by §7059(b)(3)(opens in new tab).

Below is an FMP outline that builds upon the ESR outline and adds FMP requirements set forth in Chapter 7 of the MLMA(opens in new tab). Elements four through seven are additions to, or modifications of, sections in the ESR.

1. The Species (included in ESR)

2. The Fishery (included in ESR)

3. Management (included in ESR)

4. Monitoring and Essential Fishery Information (included in ESR)

5. New conservation and management measures (not included in ESR)

6. Anticipated effects of additional management measures (not included in ESR)

7. Future Management Needs and Directions (as revised from ESR)

  • Identification of Information Gaps
  • Research and Monitoring
  • Considerations Related to Future Management Changes
  • Climate Readiness

8. Review and amendment procedures (not included in ESR)

While all FMPs are at the high end of the management continuum, they do not all require the same amount of resources, time, or engagement. The need for a cost-effective way to advance MLMA implementation has led to discussion focused on the concept of streamlined FMPs or “FMP-lites”. Providing less intensive FMP options is essential, but none of the required elements described in Chapter 7 of the MLMA(opens in new tab) can be excluded. Nevertheless, the level of detail of the document and the extent of the process needed to develop it can be tailored to match the needs of the fishery. A fishery with multiple sectors will require a more substantial discussion and analysis to address the distinct issues of each sector. Similarly, a fishery facing resource constraints or controversial allocation(opens in new tab) decisions will require an FMP developed through a more significant public process (strategies for that engagement are addressed in Chapter 4).

Cabezon. (CDFW photo)
Intertidal green abalone. (CDFW photo)

Determining where a fishery falls on the continuum

There is no clear distinction between what constitutes a basic and a complex FMP. It is a continuum defined by the scope and scale of the document, and the level of public process required. Every fishery will be unique, but considerations for identifying where on the continuum a fishery may fall are provided below.

The management continuum shown in Figure 2 aims to identify a range of MLMA-based management options. Identifying the scale appropriate for a given fishery’s management depends on the degree of management change required to ensure sustainability and improve consistency with the MLMA and the complexity of the fishery. These are addressed separately below.

What degree of management change is needed?

Determining the degree of management change needed involves identifying the range of potential management actions. Several tools can help to inform this determination. First, the results from the PSA and ERA analyses developed through the prioritization process can help to identify areas of relative risk. Second, information on species’ climate vulnerability will provide additional insights regarding risk as it becomes available. Third, frameworks such as the MLMA-based assessment framework described in Appendix F can help to identify where management may be inconsistent with the goals of the MLMA.

Finally, the quantitative assessment tools and approaches described in Chapter 5 can assist in identifying the degree of management change that may be necessary to achieve the sustainability and socioeconomic goals for the fishery. A change in the decision-making framework, or from effort- to catch- based controls, may constitute a major change. Examples of relatively minor changes may include a modification to the gear used in a fishery or to a season or size limit(opens in new tab). It is important to note that in some contexts addressing management needs may require changing provisions contained in statute. In these situations, the development of an FMP may be appropriate given the unique authority to make a fishery management statute inoperative through FMP implementing regulations (§7071(b)(opens in new tab)).

How complex is the fishery?

In addition to the anticipated degree of management change, the level of complexity of the fishery will influence the extent of the public process, as well as the scope and scale of the resulting management document. Each fishery will vary in terms of the scope, amount, and form of stakeholder engagement.

Complexity criteria include the following:

  • Number of gear types.
  • Number of sectors.
  • Extent of geographic distribution of the fishery.
  • Number of participants.
  • Interjurisdictional issues.
  • Fishery demographics.
  • Competing regional or port perspectives.
  • Mobility of the fishery.
  • Allocation issues.
  • Bycatch issues.
  • Stock conditions (healthy, depressed(opens in new tab), depleted(opens in new tab)).
  • Critical ecosystem interactions.
  • Limited entry(opens in new tab) or permitting issues.
  • Degree of stakeholder interest and variety of stakeholder views.
  • Sources and quality of information on which to base management.

Taken together, these factors can be used to help identify where on the continuum a fishery may be most appropriately managed. When an FMP is deemed necessary, these factors can help the Department to understand the level of resources and staff effort that will be needed. Figure 3 provides an overarching view of the management scaling concept.

Figure 3 is a flowchart showing how the scale of management is determined for different fisheries. Lower priority fisheries get an Enhanced Status Report (ESR). Higher priority fisheries may be placed anywhere on the continuum based on the anticipated degree of management change and an assessment of fishery complexity.
Figure 3: Identifying where a fishery falls along the management continuum.

Increasing efficiency and capacity

Regardless of where on the scale a fishery is, there is an opportunity to improve efficiencies and leverage outside resources. Developing the four existing FMPs was a learning process for the Department, Commission, and stakeholders. After the first three FMPs significantly impacted the Department’s limited resources, there was a move to procure outside funding and outsource individual components of subsequent FMPs while retaining oversight of the processes and products. The FMP processes for Spiny Lobster (completed) and Pacific Herring are good examples of leveraging outside funding to advance MLMA implementation while minimizing costs to the Department.

While effective stakeholder engagement is a central goal of the MLMA, it can also be one of the most resource-intensive aspects of the management process. Efficiencies can be gained by carefully focusing engagement on the areas of highest relevance to stakeholders and where their expertise is most informative. Chapter 4 addresses stakeholder engagement in more detail.

There are also opportunities for increasing efficiency through effective process design. For example, creating ESRs as a first step in implementing the Master Plan allows the Department to flag missing EFI in fisheries that have been prioritized for additional management action. This provides an opportunity for the Department to work with outside partners to incentivize the collection of this information. ESRs can also facilitate FMP development efforts by identifying gaps in understanding and management. Finally, strategically focused and timed peer review can provide a solid scientific foundation early in the management process, enabling managers and stakeholders to evaluate management options that are supported by the best available scientific information and other relevant information. Chapter 10 provides guidance on the appropriate scope, scale, and timing of effective scientific peer review under the MLMA.

Photo at top of page: Fishing for halibut. (© David Hills, all rights reserved)